Southampton and Aston Villa are at different ends of the table and in surprisingly different points of form before they meet at St Mary’s to kick off the Premier League weekend on Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN at 7:45 a.m. ET and online via Live Extra).
Villa needs a win to clinch Premier League safety after a dreadful start to the season, but have been much better since Christian Benteke awoke under the guide of manager Tim Sherwood.
Southampton seems almost desperate to avoid the Europa League despite its stated goal of finishing sixth. In the Top Four for much of the season, Saints have struggled in recent weeks (fortunately for them, so have Spurs and Liverpool).
One of this week’s talking points has been Villa’s Jack Grealish, who turned down a call-up to the Republic of Ireland and is a dual national (England).
What they’re saying
Villa’s Sherwood on Grealish saga: “Jack’s not made his mind up . I just think it’s good news that they all want him. If he wants guidance from me, unfortunately, I can’t give it to him. Only Jack and his family can make that decision. I don’t think it’s that Jack didn’t want to play for Ireland. He didn’t want to play for England either – and he didn’t want to play for Brazil.”
Southampton’s Harrison Reed on the table: “We’re keeping an eye on the teams around us and obviously we’ve had a bit of a wake-up call on Monday with Swansea turning over Arsenal. We know now how important it is to get these points under our belts in the last two games and that’s going to stay in our heads next season. If we end well we can then push on next year. We’ll keep pushing and doing our work on the training ground to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.”
Saints should have too much class for Villa, even on the road, but form is an important cog in this match’s machine. Should Benteke be able to beat Jose Fonte and company, we might just see a surprise. Still, we’ll say 2-1 Southampton.
Leicester City host Southampton at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) on Saturday with the Foxes eager to keep their surge up the table going.
Nigel Pearson’s men have enjoyed an incredible resurgence in recent weeks after winning five of their last six matches to move them off the bottom and out of the bottom three. Leicester know a win could move them up to 14th place and will be calling on their fans to create a lively atmosphere, once again.
As for Southampton, they sit in seventh place heading into this one but have won just one of their last five away games as Ronald Koeman’s men have suffered with injuries in the final weeks of the season.
In team news Leicester, predictably, is unchanged from the team which beat Newcastle last week. Southampton bring in young goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga for Kelvin Davis, while another youngster, Harrison Reed, starts in midfield.
Tottenham have remained tight-lipped throughout the entire process, yet Pochettino’s silence on his future since the end of the season, has been deafening. Particularly for Southampton’s fans.
After stating he wanted to speak with the owners to see which direction Saints will be heading in, Pochettino has yet to confirm his future. Southampton’s boss has one year left on his deal and has been dismissive about future contract negotiations for months, hence this interest and reported talks with Tottenham Hotspur not coming as a surprise to many.
Personally, having been around Saints’ camp on multiple occasions this season, Pochettino’s body language alone suggests a move was always in the offing. Failing to look beyond this season when repeatedly asked about his and the clubs future, you could the patience of the 42-year-old wearing thin as more and more journalists lined up to try and trick him into revealing his plans.
However this shakes out, Pochettino is one of the best managers in the Premier League. No doubt about it.
When he took over Southampton in January 2013 they were flirting with relegation after just being promoted from the Championship. Pochettino secured safety and then kicked his team on during the 2014-15 season. Blending teenagers with talented veterans, the soccer Saints have played has been sublime and admired across the Premier League. They finished eighth, their highest-ever position in the PL and recorded a records points tally. Pochettino kicked on the careers of Saints’ inspirational players and helped the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Jay Rodriguez get called up to the English national team. He has built a squad of talented internationals yet the core is built of academy products such as Lallana, Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, Callum Chambers, Harrison Reed, Sam Gallagher and others. That quality is hugely valuable to any club, as producing your own talent, rather than spending millions to buy players elsewhere is hugely beneficial even for a big club like Spurs.
They have the spending power to buy big but they didn’t work out well for Andre Villas-Boas when he plundered the $120 million Spurs received for Gareth Bale last summer. When you look at Tottenham, they have produced the likes of Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb, Danny Rose and Andros Townsend through their academy. If Pochettino can bring through several other youngsters into the first team it will save them millions and also allows the coach to instill his beliefs in the players from a young age.
Working with talented teenagers is his forte and Pochettino’s ability to deliver a team playing attractive soccer with substance is well known in England. After his exploits this season, it is no surprise other clubs are courting his expertise as Saints are fun to watch, work incredibly hard, have integrated teenagers into their lineup seamlessly and pin other teams back by deploying a high-pressure approach few opponents can match.
He will bring all of that to Spurs as the North London club will get an innovative and hard-working manager who spends the entire day at the training ground with his large staff who tirelessly analyze every single aspect of the team. Having witnessed Pochettino’s work up close and personal, if he’s allowed to stamp his own mark on Spurs, just like he did with Saints, then he will only succeed at White Hart Lane.
That’s right. Tottenham may actually get a managerial decision correct for the first time in a long time. He is, of course, unproven at the very top level but after managing Espanyol in La Liga and now Southampton in the PL, it seems as though Pochettino’s career path is leading him towards Tottenham and masterminding their quest for Champions League soccer.
At Selhurst Park on Monday, Liverpool’s title charge took a devastating blow for the second time in a week. 3-0 up with 11 minutes to go, somehow the Premier League’s long-time leaders chucked it all away as they tied 3-3 in dramatic fashion against Crystal Palace. Standing at the back of the old main stand of Palace’s home stadium, as soon as their second goal went in I sensed the game was only going one way.
Despite the horrendous nature of their late collapse against Palace, the real damage was done for Brendan Rodgers’ side when they lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea last Sunday. Liverpool only needed a point from that match but went for the win and paid the price for their naive tactics. They didn’t learn from their cavalier approach going wrong against Chelsea, as Palace picked the Reds apart with Rodgers’ side pouring forward to try and score more goals in order to help their goal differential and their title chances.
“It is hugely disappointing,” Rodgers said of Liverpool’s collapse. “For 78 minutes we were outstanding, looked solid defensively, didn’t have many scares, got three goals and looked like we could have got more. I think we got a little bit carried away looking to get one or two more goals and lost the defensive structure to our game. To lose those three goals at the end of the game was hugely disappointing. We said at half time that the most important thing was to win the game. I thought we started playing “Roy of the Rovers” football and trying make up the goal difference. Tonight was about winning the game.”
Liverpool didn’t win, and heading into the final game of the 2013-14 Premier League season they know a win at home against Newcastle is unlikely to be enough to hand them their first league title in 24 years. Manchester City — who have remarkably only spent 11 days at the time of the standings the entire season due to the scheduling of their matches — only need a point against West Ham on the final day as their goal differential is 13 better than Liverpool’s and they are two points ahead of Liverpool at the top of the PL standings.
So, did Rodgers really not tell his squad to go for more goals against Palace?
Before the match Rodgers gave a rallying cry that his side had all guns blazing and were trying to erase City’s advantage in terms of goal differential. If I was a Crystal Palace player listening to those words, it would’ve made me determined to scupper Liverpool’s title charge. Don’t get me wrong Liverpool’s free-flowing style, which has seen them score 99 goals this season, is exciting, exhilarating and easy on the eye. Yet it is also extremely naive. Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan were bombing on from their full back positions even after the Reds let their first two goals in and both were exposed horribly, alongside Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho who were beaten by a long hoof up the pitch late on for the equalizer.
Here is what Johnson, who didn’t have a night to remember, said on Twitter in response to severe criticism after the game.
So many sofa experts in this game….
Absolutely no idea about football what so ever! #Jokers
When it comes to experts…. would Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson have gone all-out attack when they were 3-0 up away at Palace to try and whittle down goal difference? No. They would have made sure they won the game and made their competitors win their final match of the campaign. Now City don’t have to and Liverpool have let them off the hook. Rodgers’ game management, once again, was poor. Even if he didn’t instruct his side to grab the ball after every goal and race back to the halfway line to try to score more, the way the Northern Irishman has conditioned his side to play came back to bite him. Liverpool’s players don’t know any other way to play and if you concede 49 goals in 37 games and can’t adapt your style to grind out wins then, unfortunately, you are never going to win the Premier League crown.
In the video below you can see the utter devastation from Liverpool’s players, especially Luis Suarez who was inconsolable, and their fans alongside the jubilation of Palace’s faithful. In a nutshell, Monday’s 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park epitomized the Premier League. Drama, despair and delight all wrapped into a pulsating 90 minutes. It doesn’t get much better than that.
CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY SET
With City still needing to get a point from their final match of the season at home to West Ham, all eyes will be on the Etihad on Sunday. You can watch their match live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET, so will we have another dramatic fashion on the final day similar to win City won their first PL title two seasons ago?
In case you didn’t know, you can also watch all 10 PL games live across NBC’s umbrella of channels on Sunday as “Championship Sunday” takes over your TV sets. Here are all the details, as games will be played on NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, E!, Bravo and many more.
For one last time this season sit back, relax and get your remote ready for a good old bashing as you flick between the 10 games being played simultaneously. Plus, you can catch every game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.
10 games, 10 channels, one Championship Sunday.
It is that time of the year again when awards are handed out and we are no different here at ProSoccerTalk.
Next week look out for our Premier League reviews, as from Monday to Thursday we will be awarding several accolades and reviewing one of the greatest seasons in PL history.
Many of the same teams or individuals have and will win most of the awards, and rightly so. Yet which teams have overachieved this season in the PL? For me, Southampton, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Hull City could all fight for that accolade. Okay, even top five teams like Liverpool and Everton can be roped into the “overachievers” bracket, but those sides will get awards and in fairness they are massive clubs. The four aforementioned teams are not and they have punched well above their weight in the Premier League. Here’s a quick look at all four, as you may not have hear about them too much all season long.
Southampton: It has been a remarkable season on the South Coast for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Teenagers Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher have all come through the academy as Saints are the envy of most PL clubs as they run a sustainable ship. Adam Lallana, Shaw and until injury wrecked his World Cup dreams, Jay Rodriguez, have been the stars as they team have equaled their best-ever PL finish of eighth and recorded their best-ever PL points total off 55 and counting. Can they keep all of their stars together and mount a serious challenge to the top five next season?
Stoke City:The Potters will finish in the top half of the standings for the first time in PL history as Mark Hughes men recovered superbly after a slow start. Even up until January there were lingering doubts around relegation at the Britannia Stadium but Hughes’ first season in charge has seen massive home wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United as Stoke have shone. They still have a solid defensive core but now a silky style has started to seep through. Can they kick on and fight for the top six next season.
Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis is right up there for the manager of the year award and the job he has done at Palace deserves it. On the four previous occasions they had been promoted to the PL they were relegated at the first attempt but that isn’t the case this time around. When Pulis arrived in late November they had just four points in the standings and were dead and buried… now they are 11th and have amassed 44 points in an astonishing turnaround. Selhurst Park is a hostile stadium to visit and the fans are enjoying “Crystal Pulis'” progression. What are they capable of next season?
Hull City:The Tigers’ season has petered out in terms of their PL success, just two wins in their last 10 tell that story. However with a first-ever FA Cup final hanging over them against Arsenal on May 17, its not all doom and gloom for Steve Bruce’s side. Far from it. If you had said the Tigers would have stayed up at the start of the season, any Hull fan, player or staff member would have ripped your hand off. They are difficult to beat and have a chance of silverware at the end of a landmark season back in the big time.
CAN MAN UNITED SEAL A EUROPEAN SPOT?
With plenty of permutations still around for Championship Sunday, there are a few things to be decided. One of those if whether or not Manchester United will be playing in the Europa League next season. If the Red Devils beat Southampton at St. Mary’s on the final day of the season then they will hope for a Tottenham defeat at home to Aston Villa, which would seal a sixth place finish for Ryan Giggs’ men.
After the final whistle blows on the 2013-14 campaign, do we think United would be happy to finish sixth and have European soccer to attract better players to sign this summer? Personally, I don’t think it makes a difference. If anything United’s rebuild will be hampered by Thursday night matches in far flung corners of Europe. As we’ve seen with Liverpool this campaign, not having the distraction of European nights can be a huge plus point in terms of a charge towards the PL title. The big question still remains about their manager and who will be at the helm next season, as Giggs played himself in the midweek win over Hull and spoke to the United faithful from the pitch. Watch that video above.
Whether or not Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal or whoever else is in charge at the start of the next season, Europa League soccer is not a necessity at Old Trafford if England’s most successful club are to make a quick return to glory amongst the PL’s elite.
Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.
“It was more like it. We were more creative and played well,” Moyes said. “It’s never the easiest of places to come and we had lost to them earlier in the season so it was good to get a good result. We earned the right to be in front. When we did, we sort of controlled chunks of the game.”
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata weaved in and out of one another majestically, especially in the second half, and with Marouane Fellaini breaking things up expertly in midfield United looked a much better outfit at the Hawthorns. If you look at the average position for United’s attackers in the image from Opta on the left, you can see how Rooney and RVP were right on top of each other, while Januzaj is almost like a third striker and Mata isn’t far behind him. Not many PL teams can contain that front four when they’re on form.
Aside from the swaggering style emanating from the Red Devils, there was a sense of belief in the way they played, a solid defensive showing from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and pure relief that they hadn’t suffered yet another damaging loss. In their previous five games, United had won just once. But after beating the Baggies they now sit in a somewhat respectable sixth spot in the PL, just five points behind Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand.
So if United finish fifth this season, despite all their struggles, is that okay?
Is this acceptable for Moyes, who inherited and aging squad that many deemed lucky to win the PL title last season, to rebuild the side and just miss out on qualification for the UEFA Champions League?
One thing we know for sure, Moyes’ teams have always been slow starters but extremely strong finishers. In four of his last five season in charge of Everton in the PL, his side have been no higher than seventh after 11 games, like United, but then rallied in the last 11 games of each season and lost just four out of 44 games across the closing stages of those seasons.
That gives United hope. Despite everything that has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson left and Moyes took over, they now have nine games left and an outside chance of making the top four.
Although that looks distant, finishing fifth wouldn’t be an embarrassment considering how bad it has been this season.
With his club issue glasses, which resemble a mishmash of Harry Potter and John Lennon’s specs, Fulham manger Felix Magath was oddly redundant as his side crumbled to a damaging 3-1 loss away at Cardiff City, in a massive relegation six-pointer over the weekend.
At least, that’s the way he was acting. Chewing ferociously on gum while sitting in the dugout, even when his team fought back to equalize with over 20 minutes left there wasn’t much emotion shown by the veteran German coach. Following the loss which maroons Fulham five points from safety at the bottom of the PL standings, Magath lambasted his squad for not having enough desire to fight and suggested the players at his disposal aren’t cut out for a relegation scrap.
“If you are at the bottom of the league, you have to fight,” Magath told the BBC after the game. “Maybe we do not have players that are used to it. They have come from situations where they have never had a relegation fight. They are not fighting enough.”
Well, that doesn’t sound like fighting talk from a manager trying to keep Fulham’s sinking ship from dropping into the Championship next season.
LUKE SHAW: NEXT SUPERSTAR FROM SAINTS
It’s been quite a week for Southampton’s 18-year-old left back Luke Shaw. On Wednesday Shaw made his England debut at Wembley against Denmark and earned raved reviews in a typically composed second half display. The youngster from Kingston in South West London has surged onto the scene for Saints in the last year. He made his PL debut in November 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. Shaw has handed England manager Roy Hodgson a massive dilemma with Leighton Baines his first choice left back for the World Cup this summer, but England legend Ashley Cole is now battling it out with Shaw for the other spot.
Cole has been out of form, favor and fitness at Chelsea and the man who has 107 caps for England could well see himself pushed off the plane to Brazil by a teenager who grew up idolizing Cole at Chelsea as a lifelong fan of the Blues. Shaw is the latest product to roll off the line of Saints’ famous academy. In England’s squad last week Shaw was joined by fellow graduates Adam Lallana, Saints’ current captain, and Arsenal attacker Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Arsenal’s other former Saints youngster Theo Walcott would’ve been on the plane to Brazil had he not had a season ending knee injury. Plus Saints had three players who’ve all featured for their first team represent the England U-19 team in midweek, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and Calum Chambers, while James Ward-Prowse played for England’s U-21 side. There are more where Shaw came from. Check out the photo below, Shaw is second from the left in the front row with those flowing blonde locks… Four of those 10-year-olds are now in Southampton’s first team squad and have played together for almost a decade.
Shaw’s rise has been dramatic, swift and spectacular. Yet through it all he’s played with the poise and control of a seasoned pro. They say that some players are born with talent to become internationals of the highest caliber, and Shaw is certainly one of those. Against Denmark he took everything in his stride and surged forward on many occasions from left back like he does for his club side. On Saturday in Saints’ narrow win over Crystal Palace, predictably Shaw was solid as a rock and hugely impressive going forward.
18 years old, living the dream in the Premier League and possibly on his way to Brazil, Shaw’s one of the hottest properties in England’s top-flight and is a future, if not present, star of the PL.
SHERWOOD’S TIME UP AT THE LANE? ARE SPURS FOR REAL….
It seems ridiculous to be talking about yet another change of manager at White Hart Lane, but that’s looking more and more likely as the current season plays out. Tim Sherwood was handed the Spurs job on a caretaker basis to start with after the sudden sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the campaign. However after leading Spurs to several wins and swashbuckling performances Sherwood was handed a permanent contract, albeit a very short 18-month deal, to manager Spurs.
After their 4-0 battering against Chelsea on Saturday, Sherwood has admitted he doesn’t know what to expected at the end of the season, as rumors of Louis van Gaal and Michael Laudrup taking charge have not been batted away by Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy.
“The silence is deafening, isn’t it?” Sherwood said. “It’s up to Daniel. I didn’t know if he was at the game or not. Maybe he was traveling. It’s up to the club to make the decision. One thing I can guarantee people is that no one cares more than me. I want the team to do very well and it hurts me when they don’t. I’m afraid I need people in that dressing room to be hurting like I am. I never want to be a number two. I’d be no good, I’m too opinionated. I wouldn’t want to do the job.”
What makes Sherwood coming under intense scrutiny even more ridiculous is that Tottenham have been vastly improved since he took over. His record as a PL manager reads played 13, won seven, lost three, drawn three. Two of the three defeats have been blowout losses to Manchester City and Chelsea, the league’s top two teams after Spurs had a man sent off and penalties were given against them in both matches.
Is that really Sherwood’s fault? Tottenham are desperate to finish in the top four, but with defeat to Chelsea that looks increasingly like Spurs’ shot at bringing Champions League soccer to White Hart Lane next season is over. 6-0 and 5-1 defeats to Man City, a 4-0 hammering by Chelsea and a 5-0 loss to Liverpool shows that despite all their spending Spurs are miles away from the current top four in the PL. Sherwood may not be the man to help with that, but it’s harsh to blame the firefighter who arrived midway through the season and has done a pretty remarkable job thus far.
FA CUP 2014: ARSENAL’S TO LOSE
In case you hadn’t noticed, this weekend we have a pretty light schedule in the PL. That was down to four Premier League teams involved in FA Cup quarterfinal matches… and now only two remain as the semifinal field at Wembley is set. Wigan Athletic shocked Manchester City to set up a semifinal clash with Arsenal, who beat Everton 4-1 at the Emirates, while Sheffield United (the first third-tier side to reach the semis since Wycombe in 2001) face Hull City in the other semifinal after they overcame Charlton and Sunderland respectively.
The FA Cup is often deemed a poisoned chalice by PL managers and players, as a decision is made early in the competitions whether or not to go all out to win it. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has done just that and it’s pay dividends. As other PL big dogs have fallen by the wayside and paid the price for giving their reserves a run out, Arsenal have faced Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton on the road to Wembley… they simply haven’t had a chance to rest their big stars.
If you’d told Gunners fans at the start of the season they would finish in the top four and win an FA Cup title, the vast majority would’ve snap your hands off. Arsenal’s best chance of winning silverware since 2005 has arrived. They’d be fools to blow this.
Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.